Here it is, the final Top 15 list of the year! The Nationals have seen some elite prospects pass through this list in recent years and they have also traded away several prospects that would still fit nicely on this list. The top two in the organization are still among the elite prospects in the game, and while I might draw some criticism for my handling of the top two on this list, know that there isn’t much separating the two.
1. Lucas Giolito – RHP (Last Year’s Rank: NR)
Yes, I know Giolito went under the knife last year. Yes, I know Anthony Rendon is a really, really good prospect. Even with surgery on his right elbow, Lucas Giolito’s talent is so immense that I can’t ignore it at the top of this list. He has true front-of-the-rotation potential and is the rare high school arm that could absolutely fly through the minor leagues once healthy. I’m taking a risk by ranking an injured player at the top of the Nationals list, but with a talent as considerable as Giolito, I simply can’t do it any other way.
2. Anthony Rendon – 3B (2)
Finally healthy himself, Rendon has a chance to scoot all the way to the big leagues in 2013. He is a gifted hitter with good thump in his bat though some scouts still believe that power will manifest more in doubles than classic home-run power. His defense at third base is very good. Rendon’s injuries have sapped some of his quickness in the field as well as some of his arm strength. With Ryan Zimmerman cemented at third base in Washington, there are people that believe Rendon could handle second base, though his trials at the position have been limited. Regardless of where he lands in the field, Rendon has the offensive potential to be an impact player.
3. AJ Cole – RHP (NR)
Cole was originally a fourth round pick of the Nationals before being traded to Oakland as part of the Gio Gonzalez deal. He returned to Washington this winter when the club sent Michael Morse to Seattle as part of a three team trade with Oakland joining the fray. Cole has huge potential but has yet to find consistency with his control or secondary pitches. His fastball can bump the upper-90s and regularly sits in the 92-94 mph range with sink. Both his curveball and change-up have shown promise but his feel for both pitches has been hit or miss.
4. Brian Goodwin – OF (4)
Goodwin has a chance to be an impact player in the middle of the field for the Nationals. His speed plays in the above-average to plus range and he has shown improved instincts both on the bases and in the field, giving his speed better game utility. Goodwin is a good athlete with nice strength and the bat speed to drive the ball to the gaps with ease. He should develop average home-run power down the line as well. Goodwin is a solid hitter that makes most of his hay against right-handed pitchers. He has a good approach at the plate and has the potential to post a strong average and OBP from the top of the lineup.
5. Nate Karns – RHP (NR)
Karns was the big riser in the Nats organization last year, putting everything together and shooting onto the prospect radar. With a low-90s fastball that is difficult to lift thanks to its natural sink and the angle he creates to the plate, Karns has a go-to heater that can devour hitters. His curveball can be a monster as well, giving him the potential for two plus pitches. He still needs to develop his change-up, and his ability to throw strikes needs to evolve into command to ensure he reaches his ceiling as a number three or four starter. If those last aspects fail to develop, Karns could still be effective out of the bullpen late in games.
6. Sammy Solis – LHP (9)
If Solis could just stay on the mound, he has the stuff and makeup to move quickly through the system and pitch in the middle of a big league rotation. When healthy, he shows a low-90s fastball that has touched 95 at times, and he shows an ability to locate the ball to all four quadrants. Both his breaking ball and change-up could be average pitches that he mixes in effectively. Solis is a stout competitor that has quality stuff and could pitch in the third or fourth spot in a rotation.
7. Matt Skole – 3B/1B (12)
With Ryan Zimmerman and Anthony Rendon ahead of him on the third base depth chart, Skole’s future may lie at first base, where his bat will have to play to its maximum extent. Skole is a very patient hitter with a solid approach and good knowledge of the strike zone, allowing him to project as a .270-.280 hitter at his peak. He has above-average power on balls he can pull but tends to hit more line drives to the opposite field, leaving scouts to believe he will hit about 20-22 home runs a year.
8. Christian Garcia – RHP (NR)
Another pitcher with a history of injuries, Garcia has gone under the knife twice for Tommy John surgery. Finally healthy in 2012 ,Garcia rocketed to the Major Leagues and could be there to stay as a power-armed setup reliever. His fastball can reach 98 mph and sits in the 94-95 mph range, and he backs that up with a quality change-up and a slider-like breaking ball. He can use all three pitches, even out of the bullpen, giving hitters multiple different looks and always having the power fastball to rely on.
9. Destin Hood – OF (5)
Drafted in the second round in 2008, it always seems like Hood has been on the prospect radar for a very long time. An impressive athlete with a strong, angular body, Hood has the physical gifts to be a quality player. He struggled in his first taste of the high minors in 2012, but still has potential to contribute in all phases of the game. He has a lightning quick bat that projects for solid power and even with an aggressive approach, he could be a fringy hitter. His speed plays well in right field where he is a good defender with a strong arm, and he can even swipe 15-20 bases a year. Hood will turn 23 right around Opening Day and shouldn’t be written off just yet.
10. Tony Renda – 2B (NR)
Renda fits the “little second baseman that can hit” mold perfectly. Drafted in the second round last summer, Renda has good bat-to-ball ability and a quality approach at the plate, allowing him to make easy contact to all fields. He lacks punch and will likely never be more than a singles hitter with the occasional double mixed in. He is a solid defender at second base that gets the most out of his limited tools. Renda isn’t a flashy prospect and he has to maximize all of his tools at every level to keep getting chances, but he has the makeup and natural hitting ability to do just that.
11. Zach Walters – SS (NR)
Walters is a good athlete that does a lot of things well on the field, but really doesn’t stand out in any one area. He can handle shortstop defensively but is fringy there overall, leaving most scouts to believe he will shift off the position long term. As an average hitter with below-average over-the-fence power, his bat likely won’t hold up at other positions, leaving him in limbo as more of a utility player. Walters’ arm is his best tool, rating as a plus on the 20-80 scouting scale.
12. Michael Taylor – OF (7)
I’m stuck on Taylor’s raw tools. He is an impact level athlete with tools galore and that is hard for me to ignore, even when that player posts a .242/.318/.362 line in High-A as a 21-year old. Taylor is growing into the outfield after converting from the infield and he could be an above-average defender with a strong arm. He has some thump in his bat but rarely does it actualize in games because of his ultra-aggressive approach that adds plenty of swing and miss to his game. With huge questions about his natural hitting ability, Taylor is a long shot to materialize as a player, but I still can’t give up on his potential.
13. Paul Demny – RHP (8)
Yes, I know Demny posted a 5.46 ERA in 123.2 innings at Double-A in 2012. That said, I still think he has a place at the back of this list as a potential back-of-the-rotation arm. He is a physical kid with good strength and a nasty streak when he’s on the mound. His two-seam fastball lives in the 89-91 mph range and his four-seamer can run up to 95 mph when he needs a little extra. He throws both a slider and change-up that could be at least average in time. Demny struggles with command, both because he lacks consistency in his delivery and because his pitches have tremendous movement that he has yet to harness.
14. Sandy Leon – C (14)
When Leon’s bat perked up in 2012, he burned through Double-A and Triple-A before arriving in the big leagues where he hit .267 in 12 games. Not known for his offensive abilities, Leon has a good approach and makes good contact, though he doesn’t always drive the ball consistently. He stands out most for his defense behind the plate where he rates as a plus defender with a strong arm. His glove will carry him to the big leagues for good, but the development of his bat will determine whether he’s a backup or a second division type.
15. Daniel Rosenbaum – LHP (NR)
There is absolutely nothing flashy about Rosenbaum but he will pitch in the big leagues at some point. A well-built kid, Rosenbaum has tree trunks for legs and tons of strength in his 6-foot-1 frame. His fastball sits in the 89-91 mph range and he locates it very well to all parts of the strike zone. He eats hitters, particularly right-handers, up with his cutter that rates as his best pitch. His breaking ball and change-up are both useable offerings but lag behind the cutter in terms of overall quality. Rosenbaum is a quiet kid with an unassuming demeanor on the mound, but he competes well and could fit at the back of a big league rotation.